Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tintern Abbey

The banks of my own Wye








July 13, 1798.

by William Wordsworth


Five years have past; five summers, with the length    
Of five long winters! and again I hear    
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs    
With a sweet inland murmur.  Once again    
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,    
Which on a wild secluded scene impress    
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect    
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.    
The day is come when I again repose    
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view    
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,    
Which, at this season, with their unripe fruits,    
Among the woods and copses lose themselves,    
Nor, with their green and simple hue, disturb    
The wild green landscape. Once again I see    
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines    
Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,    
Green to the very door; and wreathes of smoke    
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees,    
With some uncertain notice, as might seem,    
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,    
Or of some hermit's cave, where by his fire    
The hermit sits alone.

                                     Though absent long,    
These forms of beauty have not been to me,    
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:    
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din    
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,    
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,    
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,    
And passing even into my purer mind    
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too    
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,    
As may have had no trivial influence    
On that best portion of a good man's life;    
His little, nameless, unremembered acts    
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,    
To them I may have owed another gift,    
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,    
In which the burthen of the mystery,    
In which the heavy and the weary weight    
Of all this unintelligible world    
Is lighten'd:—that serene and blessed mood,    
In which the affections gently lead us on,    
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,    
And even the motion of our human blood    
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep    
In body, and become a living soul:    
While with an eye made quiet by the power    
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,    
We see into the life of things.

                                                If this    
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft,    
In darkness, and amid the many shapes    
Of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir    
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,    
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart,    
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee    
O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the wood    
How often has my spirit turned to thee!

And now, with gleams of half-extinguish'd though[t,]    
With many recognitions dim and faint,    
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,    
The picture of the mind revives again:    
While here I stand, not only with the sense    
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts    
That in this moment there is life and food    
For future years. And so I dare to hope    
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first    
I came among these hills; when like a roe    
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides    
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,    
Wherever nature led; more like a man    
Flying from something that he dreads, than one    
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then    
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,    
And their glad animal movements all gone by,)    
To me was all in all.—I cannot paint    
What then I was. The sounding cataract    
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,    
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,    
Their colours and their forms, were then to me    
An appetite: a feeling and a love,    
That had no need of a remoter charm,    
By thought supplied, or any interest    
Unborrowed from the eye.—That time is past,    
And all its aching joys are now no more,    
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this    
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts    
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,    
Abundant recompence. For I have learned    
To look on nature, not as in the hour    
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes    
The still, sad music of humanity,    
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power    
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt    
A presence that disturbs me with the joy    
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime    
Of something far more deeply interfused,    
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,    
And the round ocean, and the living air,    
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,    
A motion and a spirit, that impels    
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,    
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still    
A lover of the meadows and the woods,    
And mountains; and of all that we behold    
From this green earth; of all the mighty world    
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,*    
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize    
In nature and the language of the sense,    
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,    
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul    
Of all my moral being.

                                     Nor, perchance,    
If I were not thus taught, should I the more    
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:    
For thou art with me, here, upon the banks    
Of this fair river; thou, my dearest Friend,    
Sunset near my house
My dear, dear Friend, and in thy voice I catch    
The language of my former heart, and read    
My former pleasures in the shooting lights    
Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while    
May I behold in thee what I was once,    
My dear, dear Sister! And this prayer I make,    
Knowing that Nature never did betray    
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,    
Through all the years of this our life, to lead    
From joy to joy: for she can so inform    
The mind that is within us, so impress    
With quietness and beauty, and so feed    
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,    
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,    
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all    
The dreary intercourse of daily life,    
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb    
Our chearful faith that all which we behold    
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon    
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;    
And let the misty mountain winds be free    
To blow against thee: and in after years,    
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured    
Into a sober pleasure, when thy mind    
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,    
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place    
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; Oh! then,    
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,    
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts    
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,    
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance,    
If I should be, where I no more can hear    
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams    
Of past existence, wilt thou then forget    
That on the banks of this delightful stream    
We stood together; and that I, so long    
A worshipper of Nature, hither came,    
Unwearied in that service: rather say    
With warmer love, oh! with far deeper zeal    
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,    
That after many wanderings, many years    
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,    
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me    
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake.    

I've come back to this poem so many times in my life, after my first foray into a troubled world, and seemingly after every foray since.  I am very much like Wordsworth in my need for and love of nature, I take solace in the quiet energy.  This poem offers me a staircase into a place of peace.  Though I've never seen Tintern Abbey, nor the English countryside, I believe we each have our own nature, our own most beautiful place, to find refuge in.  From time to time I am fortunate to glimpse this bright former nature in some young people not yet bruised or burdened, and shed my trouble like a heavy coat.

This next poem, too, by William Wordsworth cuts a smooth curve along a contemporary truth - perhaps a timeless one - and for something written two hundred years ago, feels to me a very fresh and urgent nudge to put away our blackberries and iPhones and walk a little deeper in the world we live in.

The World is Too Much With Us; Late and Soon

                by William Wordsworth

          THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
          Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
          Little we see in Nature that is ours;
          We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
          The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
          The winds that will be howling at all hours,
          And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
          For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
          It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
          A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                   
          So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
          Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
          Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
          Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

No comments: